Friday, October 24, 2014

Reformation, All Saints, All Souls

This year November 2nd falls on a Sunday. All Souls Day, also called the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed is a Feast of the First Class, so may appropriately take precedence.  
            It’s not uncommon for this to be confused with All Saints’ Day, November 1st, since Lutherans tend to think of all the faithful departed as saints; and indeed in an important respect, of course they are saints. They are translated to the Church Triumphant, with all the company of heaven.
            Traditionally, however (dating to the seventh century), All Saints was a day on which to commemorate especially those saints of yore whose lives were marked by a special confession of Christ unto death; that is, who were martyred. Many of those martyrs have days appointed specifically for them on the Western Calendar, such as the Apostles, or St. Laurence (August 10), or the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist (August 29). There are in fact many post-biblical martyrs whose days are on the full Western Calendar. But there are many more, who never had dates attached to their martyrdom in any calendars, so All Saints was a day meant for commemorating all of them. That is why the more traditional color for All Saints is red, not white. In the Roman Catholic Church it is officially called the Solemnity of All Saints or Hallowmas or All Hallows (from which, of course, the evening before derives its name: Halloween).
            And that is also why the day for commemorating all of the faithful departed is not November 1st, but November 2nd. Incidentally, in recent years The Catholic Church has, like many other churches these days, also dropped the specific distinction of martyrs for All Saints, and remembers all the faithful who are in the Church Triumphant. The way they then distinguish between All Saints and All Souls is to count All Souls as those who are still in purgatory and have not yet achieved the beatific state of having been purified of all sins and arrived in heaven. We Lutherans, of course, have always firmly condemned such nonsense as not only contrary to Scripture, but contrary to the merit and worthiness of Christ: He alone is our Purifier. There is no such thing as purgatory.
            Providentially, ironically, and most fittingly, we have traditionally observed the Festival of the Reformation on the Eve of All Saints, October 31st. The Reformation was for us a recovery of the Gospel in its purity; so it is right then, that we note in an evangelical way the difference between All Saints and All Souls as something other than the folly of purgatory. We rejoice in the confession of martyrs unto death on All Saints, and in all the faithful departed, who are in the Church Triumphant, on All Souls. The color for that day is historically black, and a requiem mass is said (though again, requiems ought never be said among us in according to the false view that our prayers help souls fly from some imaginary purgatory). Since as most parishes do not have black paraments, white is used to emphasize the Church Triumphant, from which, in glory, the faithful departed all await the resurrection of the body at the Last Day.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A fresh new approach to church

New pastor brings new style to church

Lead Pastor Burnell Petersen leads fresh new worship style at local church
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COLUMBUS — A church is about to embark on a new journey as it welcomes new Lead Pastor Burnell H.C. Petersen.
The 35-year-old father of five said it was the Holy Spirit that called him to the Missouri-Synod Lutheran congregation accompanied by his wife, Concordia, to Columbus. “As radical as it sounds," the black-shirted pastor - bereft of hipster glasses, wispy beard, and shaved head - explained, ”I didn't scope out this place through marketing, surveys, or focus groups, but rather God called me here to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments without regard to human manipulation."  
“The mission of Jesus Christ is what got me here: to reach unbelievers (not the unchurched, dechurched, underchurched, overchurched, or entertainment-deprived); but rather people who need Law and Gospel, but are being deprived of it in their tired old feckless baby-boomer churches, or maybe they’ve been hurt or are struggling in some way with being manipulated like a focus group,” Petersen said.
He went on to explain what sets his congregation apart from other churches in the community.
“We actually believe in this stuff.  We aren't giving people hipster gobbledygook and hackneyed warmed over phony religiosity, but the actual Gospel ” said the 2005 graduate of a certain Lutheran Seminary.  I like my motorcycle just fine, but I won't be riding it into the chancel."
He believes shallow postmodernism and silly innovations are often placed above the real reason someone attends church.
“If you asked someone off the street their idea of a church, they would think praise bands, a guy in jeans and an untucked shirt cracking jokes, just some of those older worn-out postmodern ideas of what church is, cookie cutter crap that just makes young people want to hurl," Petersen said. "Our congregation is not really any of those things. We don’t have praise bands, no middle aged pastor desperately trying to be relevant but just looking like a clown.  We understand or try to project in our culture that church is more than just trying to bait and switch people and downplaying Jesus, the cross, redemption, and the Gospel.  We don't throw our blessed Lord under the bus."
“It’s a challenge to minister as an actual believer instead of a poser, but if you simply carry out the Lord's instructions from Scripture, it's not really hard to understand that this isn't posing for selfies."
Petersen is excited about becoming part of the mission that the Holy Catholic Church has set out to accomplish since its opening in 30 AD.
“The neat thing about this body of Christ is we’re all broken, we’re all sinful and we all struggle. That grace and mercy that’s poured on us in Holy Baptism, we’re overjoyed by it.  And in spite of the crosses we bear as disciples, we can’t help but want to share it, by inviting people to the Divine Service,” he said.
There is no target age or demographic, Petersen said with the Church's culture-transcending hymnody and multisensory experience of the Western Mass in its fullness, along with the Law and Gospel he uses within his sermons, the congregation has no intended age, race, or status of wealth.
“It’s liturgical and dignified so that’s attractive to young families. It’s an authentic atmosphere on Sundays so parents feel comfortable bringing their kids here,” he said.
His congregation tends to be a little different than other churches as actually worshiping God through the miracle of the physical presence of Jesus in Word and sacrament is a normal scene - as opposed to projection screens, bad guitar music, skits, lattes, cup-holders, couches, dancing girls, and mind-numbing praise choruses,
Petersen is confident that by virtue of the Lord's incarnation and mission to seek and save the lost, Jesus will continue to interact physically and miraculously as the Holy Spirit grows the church according to the will of the Father, a reality he gladly invites.  He has no idea what the "numbers" will look like.
“It’s a really good problem to have,” he said.
Petersen describes himself as a "poor miserable sinner" who has been "called into the preaching office and set apart through Holy Ordination" with a preaching style that shuns gimmicks, current events, and modern media examples such as video clips and slideshows - focusing rather on Christ and His work on the cross for the salvation of sinners.  It's a radical idea, and one certain to raise eyebrows, but Petersen is convinced that this new way is superior to the old, traditional shuck-and-jive contemporary nonsense that turns people off with its shallowness.
“We have not abolished the Mass," said Petersen, in a shocking quotation of the Book of Concord, "Moreover, in our churches 'Mass is celebrated every Sunday and on other festivals when the sacrament is offered to those who wish for it after they have been examined and absolved. We keep traditional liturgical forms, such as the order of the lessons, prayers, vestments, etc.'" 

It's an idea so radical and fresh that it's a wonder this has not been tried before.

For more information about what authentic worship does not look like, visit any number of LCMS congregations.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ebola

  by Burnell F Eckardt Jr
  in collaboration with the editorial staff

          There’s been plenty of well-founded worry about the Ebola virus these days. As I write this, we’re already tracking the possibilities of its spread through two Dallas nurses who contracted the disease from the Liberian man who came here and has died. One of those nurses took a flight to and from Cleveland, and that plane has been to Florida. Some schools have closed as precautions. Who knows where this can go? By the time you read this it may have been stanched, or it may have become epidemic, official reassurances to the contrary notwithstanding.
            One cannot help but think of the plagues of the Middle Ages to find points of comparison, most especially the Black Death of the mid-fourteenth century in which over a third of all Europeans died. But we can also make a more recent comparison. Having just recently updated the chronicles of St. Paul’s in Kewanee, I happen to be somewhat versed in the ease with which a plague can suddenly sweep across even a nation that has the advantage of knowing more than medieval folk did about how disease is spread.
            In 1918, the Spanish Flu pandemic reached the shores of America, probably through the U.S. Government War Exhibition in Chicago, which opened in September of that year and brought a quarter of a million visitors. Chicago was the nation’s largest rail hub at the time.   As was the case across Illinois, Kewanee’s first announced victims were servicemen who were still away from home, but soon the ravages of the disease were felt by families here and across the nation.  By the end of October, over 40,000 new cases were reported in Chicago in one week alone. In the same month Kewanee noted its first local death of an influenza victim.
            Articles appearing in the Kewanee Star Courier appear to have been written with the aim of quelling people’s fears.  Weekly stories would announce the reported decline of new cases, or of good news on the flu front.  An often-reprinted article entitled “Spanish Influenza—What It Is and How It Should Be Treated,” confidently averred that it is “nothing new . . . simply the old ‘grippe’” of 1889-90, and insisted that there was “no occasion for panic.”  When the war ended in November, the newspaper declared that the city received the news with “unbridled joy.”   At year’s end a half-page artist’s sketch chronicled the year’s mostly significant events, and most of it was devoted to excitement about the war’s drawing to a close, while allowing only a small corner to note that “Uncle Sam got the flu.”
            But obituaries didn’t lie, and since the middle of October there had been a steady stream of reports of new local victims who had died of “the flu and pneumonia.” And since it was customary in those days to print obituaries on the front page of the paper, their daily appearance seemed almost to mock the newspaper’s valiant if pitiful attempts to maintain a bright outlook.
            One of the particularly odious facets of a plague—and this pandemic certainly qualified as a plague—is that spiritual care became difficult to obtain in a time when it was most sorely needed.  The city of Kewanee closed all its public places, and all the local churches had agreed to cooperate.  By the year’s end they had all ceased to conduct services, with the sole exception of the funerals, which of necessity were held away from the church, and at which attendance was kept to an absolute minimum. St. Paul’s closed its doors with an announcement that arrangements could be made with the pastor for private catechetical instruction.   The church stayed closed for thirteen weeks.
Usually the victims of influenza would die within a single week of their contraction of the disease.  Delirium was not uncommon.  People everywhere were getting sick.  The city of Chicago ran out of hearses.  Morgues were stacked to the ceiling with bodies.
The pandemic didn’t actually abate until the late spring and summer of 1919.  Researchers estimate that between 30 and 50 million people died worldwide, with an estimated 675,000 Americans being among the dead.
St. Paul’s was able to open its doors sometime early in 1919, though people were still dying.  In one week alone during that period there were five funerals.  The official church record puts the number of deaths from influenza at 11.  It took until sometime in the year 1920 for the horrendous chapter of the influenza plague to come, thankfully, to an end, and, as was the case in all of mankind’s previous plagues, an awareness began to settle in that it was not yet the end of the world.
So today we are facing the threat of Ebola. We have received word that some of our Liberian brothers have questions about our communion practice and we realize these questions might soon afflict us as well. What of the common cup? What of the reliquae (leftover elements)? Should this disease take on the marks of an actual pandemic among us, we may once again be in need of extraordinary measures, and history can guide us. Under extraordinary circumstances, it might be proper for churches to take extraordinary measures, to quell fears where possible. There will surely be a temptation to attempt a sterile distribution of the Lord's Supper. The pastor should wash his hands thoroughly before the Service, but extra care might be taken and public awareness of this precaution could be raised. Hand-shaking could be forbidden. And certainly, the idea that glass individual cups could be used, perhaps with vodka dampened purificators or other precautions, will be brought up as more sanitary than the chalice.
The editors have considered all these things, and it seems to us all that such precautions are really no guarantee of complete sterility and that our fathers felt that the best course was not to change the mode of distribution but to abstain from public communion services; and we think that if we do face an actual pandemic of plague proportions, this would still be the best and safest course. Pastoral care would have to be handled mostly in a private way and may even require at times, if the communicant is quarantined or some such thing, the use of rubber gloves and a face mask by the celebrant. Unless the pandemic shuts down the power grid and the internet, we will enjoy ways of preaching to and catechizing our people that our fathers did not have. If things do get out of hand, it might become necessary, once again, to close our churches altogether for awhile and rely solely on individualized pastoral care and electronic media.

We do have plenty of reason, however, even from a medical point of view, to be hopeful that no such thing will befall us in these days. It is certainly true that the Lord will provide and that He might well deliver us to Himself through Ebola or some other horrific disease. We trust, without flinching, that if the Lord deliver us to that fate through the Chalice or the Services of the Church that it is His good and gracious will to do so and that the forgiveness of sins that always comes to the faithful through the Lord's Supper will be what we truly need. Indeed, such an end, as all those that God gives, will be a blessing. But we should not shirk our duty to the 5th commandment in all of this or engage in extra-Biblical fantasy that the Lord never delivers crosses through the means of grace. The Lord never hurts or harms His children in any place or time and certainly He never harms them in the Lord's Supper, but the Lord does call His people home and allow them to suffer trials on this side of glory. We do not refuse medical care because the Lord provides and we should not ignore the dangers of plague if it is visited upon us. Again: extraordinary and temporary measures may be necessary. Meanwhile, like many before who have not only been threatened by plagues, but have actually suffered them, we can, and should, pray. For the prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

St. Michael's Liturgical Conference

Materials from the 2014 St. Michael's Liturgical Conference at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church of Detroit are being posted at Zion's website.  A number of our Gottesdienst editors were involved in the conference in a variety of ways: Fr. Mark Braden hosted and presided, Fr. David Petersen preached for the St. Michaelmas, Fr. Burnell Eckardt presented a sectional paper, the undersigned presented a paper on the pastoral care of catechumens and communicants, and all of the above participated in a panel discussion on the topic of Confirmation and First Communion.  Other presenters included Fr. Joel Baseley of Dearborn, Michigan, and Fr. Daniel Reuning of Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Who Cut the Cheese?


By Larry Beane

This is a video released by Pastor Mark Junkans (LCMS) who serves a call at Lutheran Inter-City Coalition in Houston, Texas (Texas District).

Pr. Junkans uses the word "communion" - but it sounds more like a house party to me.  Although I would prefer meat hors d'oeuvres or cocktail weenies, since I don't eat bread (Holy Communion excepted) - I would never attempt to bind consciences regarding the proper finger foods to go with Lutheran beverages.  To each his own!  Though (and I realize I am on shaky 8th Commandment and Matthew 18 ground here), I do think some research is in order to determine the propriety of omitting cheese in such contexts.  Is this an adiaphoron?  That question is certainly above my pay grade.

Passing around a bottle sounds like a great time (not that Lutheran pastors know anything about that...) - and is certainly of the order of First Article gifts.  But I don't know if Pr. Junkans is trying to say this communion is a simply bunch of parishioners quaffing at a cocktail party, or rather if this is supposed to be the Holy Communion, the Sacrament of the Altar, the Holy Eucharist, the Mass, the body and blood of Christ?

At any rate, what about the cheese?  Can we at least have consensus on that?

Maybe Pr. Junkans will clarify the matter.  Maybe the Texas District President could help.  I would be interested to know what President Harrison thinks, not to mention President Rast, as Pr. Junkans is a graduate of Fort Wayne's DELTO program.  Reverend Presidents, we need direction on this caseous casuistry matter!  Silence is not an option!

I am not being critical of Pr. Junkans.  I know the rules of the synod.  I'm not an ecclesiastical supervisor.  Nor am I going to invest the time and money to try to meet my brother face to face to confront him about omitting cheese at an otherwise perfectly good cocktail party - as scandalous a matter as that might be - especially to our brethren in Wisconsin.  Love covers a multitude of Sbrinz.

But I would like to know what those charged with ecclesiastical supervision do have to say about this.  I mean, if we can't agree on something so basic, what does it mean to walk together?